Playing in the Same Key

Apparently, I am the ‘new Matthew Mobbs’; at least, this is how I have been introduced to my colleagues in the Attenborough Tower.

Highly flattered as I am to be compared to this articulate educator, software wizard and internationally renowned Mick Jagger impersonator (he really is very good – ask for ‘You Tube’ proof!), I know it will be some time before I am able to fill Matt’s shoes (if ever) and find myself up to speed on the many BDRA projects. But I have made a start. And it has been very exciting.

But today I will wear my other HE hat as a long-in-the-tooth face-to-face tutor and distance learning e-moderator. What is clear is that the emerging e-learning technologies and associated pedagogies that the Alliance rigorously explores allow our students to confront us with differing expectations. For this reason, the skills base required of the modern educator appears daunting.

I see BDRA at the cutting edge of research into these technologies – podcasts, e-books, 3-D MUVES such as Second Life, and so on. It provides the link between research and practice that is so vital in academia. Via its many research dissemination avenues and through innovative practices such as the Media Zoo’s  excellent Carpe Diem two-day workshop, BDRA enables educators to adapt their material to best meet these new student expectations. BDRA offers the reasons why they should or, equally as important, shouldn’t do so.

But I wonder whether there is a danger that the real-world application of these excellent educational innovations will be left far behind the research.

For example, as a tutor, I can see how a short, regular, Audacity-edited podcast on recent global events could add significantly to the International Relations course I teach. The audio could be combined with some animated Powerpoint slides containing website screenshots and URLs to produce a useful Adobe Presentation. A wiki would allow my students to add their own thoughts, or perhaps I could even have them take a small quiz in Blackboard, reinforcing what they have just heard. As a learning technologist, I can do this.

But do I really think an educator – and I’m not trying to be critical here – who indents text on a module reading list by using the Tab key will have (or ever find the time to acquire) the technical ability to do the same?

This is where university administrations have to take up the challenge laid down by research groups such as BDRA, as the potential of what can be done may differ significantly from what is actually offered to the modern (fee-paying and discerning) student. It’s stating the obvious, but this can be achieved only through significant investment in people and training, and an appreciation of the future of HE.

In considering whether universities – and university departments within a university – can afford to be complacent  in giving academics all the help they need in overcoming the gap between research and practice, I turn to the (completely fabricated) words of the Mobbs-ter’s rock mentor: “Hey Keef, man, it sounds better if we all play in the same key, you know?”

As we know, students, the masters of Web 2.0 social networking and inveterate ‘chatters’, have very keen ears.


Learning Technologist

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